by Alan Hodge
With temperatures well below freezing last weekend, and a brief snow shower thrown in for good measure, Civil War re-enactors who had set up a winter encampment at Historic Latta Plantation felt Jack Frost had infiltrated their ranks.
The event saw a group of re-enactors from the 88th New York, 49th North Carolina, 28th North Carolina and 26th North Carolina regiments sleep on the plantation grounds in canvas tents, and spend plenty of time huddling around campfires in an effort to stay warm. Participants drove from as far away as Wilkesboro and the Winston-Salem area to take part in the frigid fun.
Matthew Waisner, who is historic interpretation and event specialist at Historic Latta Plantation, explained what drives the re-enactors to spend weekends under conditions like those.
“It gives us a good feel about how the troops actually lived and survived in the Civil War,” Waisner said.
First Sergeant Lee Madden of the 88th New York took part in last year’s winter encampment at Latta Plantation.
“It got down to six degrees above zero,” Madden said of last year. “Our coffee cups froze to the table.”
Among the many visitors to Latta Plantation and the winter camp was Garry and Chris Morrow from Saratoga, New York. They were visiting their granddaughter, 9-year-old Ariana Morrow, of Huntersville, who also toured the camp.
“It really gives you an appreciation of what people in the past have done for our freedom,” Chris said.
One activity during the winter camp that helped get the re-enactor’s blood flowing was company drill. Several times during the event participants formed ranks and went through what Civil War soldiers called ‘evolutions of the line.” In other words, marching and forming configurations of troops for battle.
Re-enactor Brian Duckworth, from Stanley, had traded his usual 28th NC Confederate uniform for the winter camp event and put on a blue federal outfit and joined up with the 88th New York to help knock some of the rust off his marching skills.
“This event gives us a chance to drill and stretch our legs,” Duckworth said.
Also on the list of demonstrations the re-enactors arranged was 19th century cooking techniques employed by troops in the field. This involved chopping wood for the fire and cooking rations in iron skillets and pots. Proper Civil War soldier fare the Latta Plantation soldiers enjoyed included fried fatback, beans, rice, and hardtack crackers.
The event also saw more work being done on a pair of authentic style winter huts that Waisner and several other volunteers were constructing in the woods on the Latta Plantation property. The little huts are being made of the same types of materials soldiers would have scrounged during the Civil War including lumber from torn down buildings, logs, mud chinking, canvas roofs, and chimneys made of sticks and mud, topped with a pork barrel.
Waisner and his crew have been working on the huts for several weeks in all sorts of weather conditions. No modern tools such as power saws are being used in the construction.
“It’s back-breaking work,” Waisner said.
But for the men and women who interpret history, some would call it a labor of love.